Renunciation and Longing by Annabella Pitkin
Through the eventful life of a Himalayan Buddhist teacher, Khunu Lama, this study reimagines cultural continuity beyond the binary of traditional and modern. In the early twentieth century, Khunu Lama journeyed across Tibet and India, meeting Buddhist masters while sometimes living, so his students say, on cold porridge and water. Yet this elusive wandering renunciant became a revered teacher of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
At Khunu Lama's death in 1977, he was mourned by Himalayan nuns, Tibetan lamas, and American meditators alike. The many surviving stories about him reveal significant dimensions of Tibetan Buddhism, shedding new light on questions of religious affect and memory that reimagines cultural continuity beyond the binary of traditional and modern. In Renunciation and Longing, Annabella Pitkin explores devotion, renunciation, and the teacher-student lineage relationship as resources for understanding Tibetan Buddhist approaches to modernity.
By examining narrative accounts of the life of a remarkable twentieth-century Himalayan Buddhist and focusing on his remembered identity as a renunciant bodhisattva, Pitkin illuminates Tibetan and Himalayan practices of memory, affective connection, and mourning. Refuting long-standing caricatures of Tibetan Buddhist communities as unable to be modern because of their religious commitments, Pitkin shows instead how twentieth- and twenty-first-century Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist narrators have used themes of renunciation, devotion, and lineage as touchstones for negotiating loss and vitalizing continuity.